Sex, religion and Afrikaner politics

Published Oct 13, 2008


By Jacques Breytenbach

At the age of 44, Afrikaans icon Steve Hofmeyr has for far too long been a target for unfounded rumours and false accusations in the Afrikaans media.

It is strange that the very culture and language Hofmeyr has promoted and tried to secure in a multicultural society, has so often turned against him.

But in his autobiography, Mense van my asem, Hofmeyr has the last laugh.

From childhood, serving as a corporal in the army, studying drama in Pretoria, and ultimately becoming an internationally-acclaimed singer and songwriter, Mense van my asem is the first real portrayal of the man behind so many facades.

Although chronologically mapping out the history of Hofmeyr's life like all autobiographies do, Mense van my asem is unique in that the man the book describes comes forward with such honesty that one sometimes gets the feeling that Hofmeyr might walk away from this with a few less friends.

At his book launch on October 6 at Izapa Bush and Game Lodge north of Pretoria, Hofmeyr said he decided to write the autobiography when he faced his own demise through health problems in 2007.

"While I was ill, I reached a turning point in my life. I decided to write this book because when you turn around from death you are forced to look back on your life," he said.

It was difficult to relive some of the hurtful periods in his life in order to bring them forth on paper.

"Not all nostalgia is equally easy. The most difficult period I wrote about has to be the most recent moments in my life.

"But I enjoyed looking back on my primary school years the most," he said.

Hofmeyr described what the title meant to him in the following way: "It was the most inclusive title I could come up with.

"The title of the book is reflective of the people I crossed paths with in my life. Some good and some bad. But I gave them my breath and they breathed on me.

"The title is not aimed at Afrikaners only, Mense van my asem includes everyone across the most southern country on the African continent."

Hofmeyr said it was a "who did it book". "The answer is 'I did it'. It is as simple as that. This will be the only autobiography you'll read in 2008 that has two chapters dedicated to sex, with two chapters on theology immediately following that."

Hofmeyr said it is a "hurtful book".

"It is 14 chapters of nostalgia. For too long we have been kept in the dark by short stories and fast media.

One half of Afrikaners think I am too leftist and the other thinks I am too rightist. One thing I've learnt is that you cannot please everyone," he said.

Hofmeyr's frustration and anger at the media for publishing hurtful articles about his personal life, his career and family appears in the book, and after reading his argumentation behind his anger, one almost feels a sense of sympathy with the man.

His attack on one of the journalists, Gavin Prins, and the editor, Tim du Plessis, of the Afrikaans Sunday newspaper, Rapport, seems justified.

Referring to their sensationalist articles Hofmeyr writes: "To win the media in their own game is all that counts. It is very difficult to become my enemy.

"You have to go out of your way to scratch around in my private life and in my career. Yet, it seems there is no end to the voyeuristic vultures who find sadistic pleasure out of it."

From being rescued from a suicide attempt and having to deal with three illegitimate children, Hofmeyr has seen it all.

The honesty of Hofmeyr's writing comes to the fore in a chapter in which he describes his sex life as a young star.

"Sex in the 80s was not as easy as sex in the 60s, but at least not as difficult as it is now, where you can't look at your own penis without thinking of Aids or Manto.

"In my time there was no such thing as a condom, but you know that at this stage. There was not a lot of girls. Never. There was only a lot of sex. Fortunately for free, because there was also not a lot of money."

In the book, Hofmeyr is very vocal about the various views he has on the government.

He writes that there should be differences in order for a democracy to be healthy.

"It is naturally the biggest democratic sin to forget about our differences."

On affirmative action, he writes: "I'm a supporter of making things right, except if the process delivers more victims."

About Afrikaner parties as an opposition to the ANC, Hofmeyr writes: "I don't know if Pieter Mulder (leader of the Freedom Front Plus) is tolerated by the ANC because he is a reasonable man or because he is a reasonably safe opposition. But what he is doing is about all that we (Afrikaners) politically can get away with.

"I don't think there is a vacuum in Afrikaner leadership. I think there is an absence of destinations to which we can lead the Afrikaner."

Hofmeyr is just as vocal on his views about religion - Christianity in particular - and his belief in God.

The book is a true, well-written and true account of one of Afrikaans' most loved sons.

- Mense van my asem was released on Saturday and is available at all leading book stores. It costs R189.95.

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